Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Buc’s tight end is a ‘must’ change ahead of the Saints game: analysis

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Amid the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ win in Dallas, the most prominent replacement for Rob Gronkowski never took the field.

The Bucs signed free agent Kyle Rudolph ahead of training camp in July after Gronkowski retired in June. Rudolph, a former Pro Bowler, didn’t play as a healthy scratch against the Cowboys.

Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox noted that Rudolph could have helped the Bucs make the 19-3 win “even more one-sided” with a strong pass-catching presence in the red zone. The Bucs settled for five field goals, one of which was missed, on five trips to the red zone in the first half of the game.

Knox noted that the Bucs’ “tight ends” played little role in the game, as Cameron Brate only had a “seven-yard catch” while no other tight ends made a catch. Rookies Cade Otton and Ko Kieft both also saw snaps on offense and special teams.

“Tampa needs to find a way to add Rudolph to the active lineup because he can be a contributing pass catcher,” Knox wrote.

While Rudolph doesn’t quite match Gronkowski’s resume, the former Minnesota Vikings pro bowler has the Saints’ number. Rudolph got one game-winning touchdown against the Saints in the 2019 playoffs, and he served as bait in the “Minneapolis Miracle” game that sent the Saints home in the 2017 playoffs.

Rudolph, the Vikings’ all-time touchdown leader among tight ends, amassed 479 receptions for 4,745 yards and 49 touchdowns in 11 seasons — 10 of them with the Vikings. His 2021 season with the New York Giants didn’t go well with 26 catches for 257 yards and a touchdown, but Bucs quarterback Tom Brady has enough faith in Rudolph to recruit him.

“While he may not be the playmaker he was earlier in his career, he is still a good addition,” Knox wrote. “Another exit option at the tight end should help Brady be more efficient in the red. Rudolph will also give the QB another tried and true target while full-back Chris Godwin recovers from the hamstring injury he picked up in the opener.”

Godwin will not play the Saints according to the injury report on Friday September 16th. The Bucs also have wide receivers Mike Evans, Julio Jones, Russell Gage and Breshad Perriman listed as questionable in the final report. All four were limited participants in Friday’s practice.

Whether or not the Bucs attract Rudolph could depend on special teams. Here’s what Bucs head coach Todd Bowles has ruled for Week 1 since Rudolph doesn’t play special teams.

“You know, we needed the space,” Bowles told reporters Wednesday. “Not this Kyle [Rudolph] couldn’t play but the other two guys did [we chose] are more active [special] teams.”

Bowles noted that he liked what he saw of rookies Otton and Kieft against the Cowboys.

“I thought they both did a good job. You know, the game wasn’t too big for her,” Bowles said.

Greg Auman of The Athletic called it “a surprise‘ that Rudolph wasn’t playing, but noted Kieft’s block and special teams ability. Auman also noted that Otton did three tackles on special teams against the cowboys.

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